IATA calls for Covid-19 testing before departure

by NUR HAZIQAH A MALEK / pic by BLOOMBERG

THE International Air Transport Association (IATA) has recommended that passengers go through a systematic Covid-19 testing prior to departure as an alternative to quarantine measures to re-establish global air connectivity.

IATA DG and CEO Alexandre de Juniac (picture) said the key to restoring the freedom of mobility across borders is the virus testing of all travellers before departure.

“This will give governments the confidence to open their borders without complicated risk models that see constant changes in the rules imposed on travel.

“Testing all passengers will give people back their freedom to travel with confidence. And that will put millions of people back to work,” he said in a recent statement.

To implement the solution quickly, IATA will be working through the International Civil Aviation Organisation and health authorities as international travel is 92% down on 2019 levels. De Juniac said global connectivity has been destroyed for over half a year as countries closed their borders to break the Covid-19 transmission.

While governments have slowly reopened their borders, there has been limited uptake due to quarantine measures and ever-changing virus measures making travel impractical.

The economic cost of the breakdown in global connectivity makes investing in a border opening testing solution a priority, as the aviation industry is juggling between 65.5 million jobs and the pandemic struggles.

The industry has lost revenues that are expected to exceed US$400 billion (RM1.66 trillion), and is set to post a record net loss of over US$80 billion in 2020 under a more optimistic return scenario.

De Juniac said safety is the industry’s top priority, as air travel is the safest form of transport and constantly working with governments to implement global standards.

“With the economic cost associated with border closures rising daily and a second-wave of infections taking hold, the aviation industry must call on this expertise to unite with governments and medical testing providers to find a rapid, accurate, affordable, easy-to-operate and scalable testing solution that will enable the world to safely reconnect and recover,” he said.

On the local front, AirAsia Bhd has stated that customers are required to follow the travel requirements of each selected country. The airline also requires passengers to produce test results prior to departure.

Any test or screening done would help fill the travel requirements of just any passenger.

According to IATA’s public opinion research, some 65% travellers agreed that quarantine should not be required for those tested negative for Covid-19.

According to the survey, 84% agreed that testing should be required of all travellers, while 88% are willing to undergo testing as part of the travel process.

IATA noted that in addition to opening borders, public opinion research also indicated that testing will help rebuild passenger confidence in aviation.

Survey respondents identified the implementation of Covid-19 screening measures for all passengers as effective in making them feel safe, second only to mask-wearing.

It added that the availability of rapid Covid-19 testing is among the top three signals that travellers will look to for reassurance that travel is safe, along with the availability of vaccine or treatment.

De Juniac added that the call for the establishment of a global approach for testing is a clear signal to what the industry needs.

“In the meantime, we are gaining practical knowledge from the testing programmes that already exist as part of the various travel bubble or travel corridor initiatives around the world.

“We must continue with these valuable programmes which move us in the right direction by building testing experience, facilitating essential travel and demonstrating testing effectiveness,” he said.

The testing would provide a clean environment throughout the travel process, ensuring no one is at risk of transmission.

Despite the fact that it will not be a permanent fixture, the procedure will likely be needed for the industry in the medium term.

De Juniac said the International Civil Aviation Organisation process is critical in aligning governments to a global standard that can be efficiently implemented and recognised.

“Airlines, airports, equipment manufacturers and governments will then need to work in total alignment so that we can get this done quickly.

“Each day that the industry is grounded risks more job losses and economic hardship,” he said.